“WE are gambling with students’ education” if winter weather hits under new reduced gritting plans, a headteacher has claimed.

A number of heads from across the county have hit out at Somerset County Council’s new significantly smaller gritting network, which is set to impact on schools’ abilities to stay open.

Among those is the headteacher of Wadham School in Crewkerne, Matthew Gardner.

He said: “On hearing about the council’s proposed cuts in road gritting, I like many headteachers raised my concern over the potential impact on local education, should we suffer a prolonged cold snap.

“Wadham School is fortunate to be close to the A roads that will continue to be gritted.

“My concern is that we are a very rural community and around half of our students travel in daily by bus and all except a few staff need a car to get in to school.”

SCC’s vote to reduce the gritting network came last year as part of the council’s plan to save £15 million by 2020 and cut £13 million by April.

Mr Gardner added: “If the contracted coach services deem road conditions to be unsafe then this service to our students could be curtailed.

“In this situation, the Local Authority response is to say that parents will be expected to get their child in to school. This is, frankly, unacceptable.

“A day or two might not be too much of an issue, but if we suffer a longer spell of sub zero temperatures we could really be gambling with our students’ education.”

Two more schools who may be forced to close in icy or snowy conditions are Combe St Nicholas primary and Neroche School.

Connel Boyle, headteacher at Neroche, argued cuts could prevent children from attending school.

Mr Boyle, who was also representing Combe St Nicholas School, said: “I am concerned that the cuts being proposed will adversely affect children attending rural village schools.

“These changes could severely impact our ability to remain open for our 400 pre-school to Year 6 pupils.”

The cuts will also include a reduction in the road safety budget, funding for maintenance of drains and gullies, and an end to the council’s planned hedge cutting in favour of a reactive approach.

Mr Boyle added: “”What is most mystifying is both our school locations are part of arterial links to main roads used by many on their way to Taunton.

“The Combe run to the Eagle Tavern junction across the A303 is a major route, and this area is an accident black-spot - mainly due to the volume of traffic crossing the A303.

“For this not to be defined as a major route is concerning.

“I would appeal that the council reviews the impact this would have on our communities, beyond just the school community as essentially both communities could be cut off from main roads that are just between 0.5 miles and 1.5 miles respectively.”

The council has promised to continue to grit important strategic and county routes – such as the A30, A38, A39 and A358 – along with essential freight routes and links to emergency stations, but many of the smaller roads provide crucial links to these significant routes, and in wintry weather the absence of gritting could cause traffic problems.

“If you look at neighbouring Local Authorities, like Devon, Secondary School Transport Routes are in the policy for protection with gritting routes,” Mr Boyle added.

“It appears to be a sad omission in Somerset’s Policy that this element has been left out - different to other LA’s who face the same financial pressures.

An SCC spokesman said: “The decision to change the policy for gritting was in response to the huge financial pressures due to falling funding from Government combined with rising costs and demand for services.

“This was not taken lightly and a number of factors were considered, including the potential impacts on schools.

“The winter service is reviewed each spring.”